At the end of 1915, the Italian poet, writer and pilot Gabriele D’Annunzio moved to Venice, where he stayed at the Casetta Rossa on the Grand Canal.
Less than one month before suffering an eye injury during a flying accident, he took two night walks, of which he left a poetically tense and thrilling recount in his book Notturno.
The Museo del Camminare has mapped these two itineraries, making them available to those who want to better comprehend the feelings and emotions of the author.Read
Between November and December 1915, the Italian poet, writer and fighter pilot Gabriele D’Annunzio (Pescara 1863 - Gardone Riviera 1938) moved into the Casetta delle Rose, The Roses’ House, on the Grand Canal in Venice – a small building that he had just rented from the Austrian prince Fritz Hohenlohe thanks to his friend, the fashion designer Mariano Fortuny.
D’Annunzio renamed it Casetta Rossa, after the red colour of the external walls, and adored it for its ‘doll-house’ dimension and the front garden overlooking the Canal. The house, in which Canova had had his atelier, was considered by D’annunzio the perfect place for writing. It also was the place where he spent the long convalescence that followed the eye injury he suffered as a result of a flying accident on 16 January 1916. Temporary blinded by the bandage wrapped around his head, he lived in a dark room of the Casetta Rossa for months, during which he managed to write Notturno on narrow paper strips that his daughter Renata passed to him.
The Museo del Camminare has mapped the itineraries (map) of two night walks that D’Annunzio took in Venice in December 1915 making them available to whom wants to comprehend the feeling and emotions of the author.
Less than one month before the accident, on 20 December 1915, D’annunzio took a night walk with his daughter Renata and two friends, chief of staff officer Manfredi Gravina and captain Alberto Blanc. The American painter Romaine Brooks, dubbed Cinerina, had also been invited to join the group, from which a dear friend of D’annunzio, lieutenant Giuseppe (Beppino) Miraglia, was absent because on guard duty at Forte Sant’Andrea, a fortress on a small island of the Venetian Lagoon, near Vignole Island.
After a gloomy dinner at the ‘trattoria’ that actually was the Pilsen Restaurant1 – where is now the Hard Rock Cafe – the group went to a coffee house that was in Calle de le Acque, near the Ponte dei Bareteri, and then walked along the Riva degli Schiavoni as far as the Arsenal.
This first itinerary thus starts from Bacino Orseolo, where was the former Pilsen Restaurant, goes through the Sotoportego de l’Arco Celeste, Piazza San Marco, Merceria de l’Orologio, Calle Regina, Ponte dei Bareteri,2 then back to Piazza San Marco, Riva degli Schiavoni, Arsenale, and finally back to the Casetta Rossa.
On the way home, D’Annunzio stopped in front of the bas-relief of Zara, the town on the Dalmatian coast that, unlike Fiume, was part of Italy at that time. In addition to his literary work, D’Annunzio became famous for his political commitment and martial activities, among which stood out the march on Fiume that he did on 12 September 1919 with his voluntary ‘legionaries’ with the aim of annexing the town to the Kingdom of Italy. The endeavour led to the establishment of the self-proclaimed government called Regency of Carnaro as a result of a strange mix of anarchist and proto-fascist ideals, though D’annunzio would never declare himself a fascist.
‘We forgo coffee, which we will take instead at the shop of the Barretteri. We head out into the darkness, gloomily. Manfredi tells us how every time Miraglia comes out of the trattoria onto the quay, he bangs his nose against the wall.
Moments later, we begin to see the moonlight. Exiting the arcade, we come out into the Piazza and under the spell.
The moon is almost full. The air is cold.
The Merceria darkens, narrow and cluttered. Even before we reach the Ponte dei Barretteri, we can smell the spirited fragrance of the coffee, the way one can when passing certain little Arab cafés.
We climb the steps and go inside. The red-haired girl looks over at us, as if searching for Beppino, our usual companion, who is not with us.
We take our coffee standing. Alberto drinks some cedar water, which seems to perk him up.
As we go out, Manfredi and Renata walk ahead. From the few words that reach me, I can hear that he is telling her about the years he spent at the Academy in Livorno with our friend.
When we reach the Ponte della Paglia, Renata says she doesn’t feel like going home so early.
The Riva degli Schiavoni is bright with moonlight. Through the closed doors of the Caffè Orientale comes the sound of a stringed instrument.
We accompany Manfredi Gravina back to the Arsenale. We go to look at the Lions sent as a gift to the Republic by Francesco Morosini, conqueror of the Morea. We linger, trying to decide which is more beautiful.
We separate and come back over the bridge.
I walk Renata back to the hotel. We feel sad, as if we had wasted the evening. (The previous evening we had accompanied Beppino to the quay, where the skiff was waiting for him, but he had come back to escort Renata all the way to her door.)
I go home alone.
I stop, as usual, in front of Santa Maria del Giglio and touch the bas-relief of Zara.
I think of my friend, alone on guard duty at Sant’Andrea.’3
A few days later, on 26 December 1915 at 10.00 pm, D’Annunzio went out for another walk in a foggy night and recounted his poetically tense and thrilling experience in the prose poem Notturno.
This second itinerary, partly similar to the first, starts and ends at the Casetta Rossa, goes through Piazza San Marco and continues on Riva degli Schiavoni as far as the Hotel Danieli, where D’Annunzio accompanied his daughter Renata who stayed there.
Along with a fascinating portrait of Venice by night, he wrote about the strage feeling he had of a ghost following him on the way back, near the Rio de le Ostreghe. Before the bridge over the Rio, on the right, Calle Cicogna leads to the Corte Michiel, where was the house of Giuseppe Miraglia, the friend of D’Annunzio who had died in a flying accident near the Lido a few days before.
‘We go out. We chew the fog.
The city is full of ghosts.
Men walk soundlessly, wrapped in mist.
Vapor rises from the canals.
On the footbridges, one sees only the white stone border of each stair.
Some drunken singing, some shouting, some sort of row.
Blue streetlamps in the mist.
The cry of aerial sentries muffled by the fog.
A dream city, otherworldly, a city washed by the Lethe or Avernus. Ghosts approach, brush past, vanish.
Renata walks ahead of me the way she did then, and Manfredi walks beside her. They are talking the way Renata and my comrade used to talk. Now and then the fog comes between us.
We cross the bridges. Small lamps glow like will-o’-the-wisps in a cemetery.
The Piazza is filled with fog, the way a tub is filled with opaline water.
The Procuratie Vecchie are almost invisible. The top of the campanile dissolves in the vapor.
The Basilica is like a rock in a hazy sea.
The two columns of the Piazzetta look like two columns of smoke rising from twin piles of ash.
On the Riva degli Schiavoni, the lamps of the moored boats.
Light music at the Caffè Orientale, behind the opaque doors: a dance melody.
Drunk people singing.
The dead are out tonight, as on All Hallows’ Eve.
We say goodbye in the lobby of the Albergo Danieli. I am hoping Renata will sleep tonight.
I head back to the Casa Rossa, alone. My friend is with me, in spirit. Deep sorrow seeps from my heart.
I look at the quay where his skiff used to dock, where every night we would shake hands and say: See you tomorrow.
A man in the Piazzetta turns around at the sound of my footsteps.
He turns around again, then walks away, becomes a smoky shadow, disappears.
I enter the arcade under the Procuratie, illuminated by the blue lamps. I am astonished to hear a large family speaking of everyday things, with the sluggish stupidity of people who have been drinking. Are they alive? Are they dead? I pass them. They become shades.
From there to the bridge of San Moisé, as I shudder to think that I shall have to pass in front of the Vicolo della Corte Michiel, I notice that someone is walking beside me noiselessly, as if barefoot.
The person is the same height as my friend, has the same build, the same gait.
He is wearing neutral, nondescript clothes, grayish in color, and a beret, also grayish.
He is silent, unusually so, as if there were no living voice or breath inside him.
No sound of heels, or shoes, or sandals.
I have an instinctive feeling of terror. I slow my step. I see him before me.
The gait is that of my comrade. Soon he is at my side again, there, in front of the passage that leads into the Corte Michiel.
The street is deserted.
I light my pocket torch at the turn and slow down. I manage to keep a distance of two or three meters. He never turns around.
His step is so silent, so strange, that the few passersby stop for a moment to look at him.
We are at Santa Maria del Giglio. The fog enters the mouth, fills the lungs. It floats towards the Canalazzo4 and accumulates.
The stranger becomes grayer, more weightless. He becomes a shadow.
Now I quicken my step so as not to lose him.
In front of the house where one always hears a piano in the evening, in front of the antiquarian’s house, he suddenly vanishes.
He did not fall into the canal, did not cross the bridge, did not enter a doorway. All the doors and shops are closed. I explore them with my torch. I retrace my steps, to make sure.
Then I run up over the bridge and rush down the calle, to make certain I am not mistaken and that he is not still in front of me.
The calle is deserted. So is Campo San Maurizio.
Perhaps I’ll find him in the narrow little street that leads to the Casa Rossa? My heart flutters. A sheet of fog grazes my cheek. A band of drunkards yells in the distance, at the end of the wharf.’5
Cover image and sliding images: MdC, 2021, with the exception of Gabrile D'annunzio at the Casetta Rossa, ca. 1916, photo by Marius de Maria.
1. D’annunzio, Gabriele, Notturno, a cura di Annamaria Andreoli e Giorgio Zanetti, Milano, Mondadori, 2013, digital edition.
2. Hat makers in Venetian dialect.
3. D’Annunzio, Gabriele, Notturno, Translated and annotated by Stephen Sartarelli, New Haven-London, Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 27-9.
4. Local name for Grand Canal.
5. D’Annunzio, Gabriele, Notturno, 2012, op. cit, pp. 17-20.
© Museo del Camminare 2021, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0